Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Vignettes from the road

Rojo is down, I repeat, Rojo is down!”

A dropped bike isn't a good thing. Terms like, 'keep the rubber-side down' are common phrases in the motorcycle community (ADVers - these explanations are for my grandmother, obviously not for you so bare with me here). Motocross and dirtbikers alike are much more likely to drop a bike as they are whipping and weaving through dirt, hitting jumps and are more susceptible to crashing. Road warriors, street bikers, crotch-rocket'ers, and E-Z riders also drop bikes, but this is generally a more serious endeavor. They ride heavier bikes, pavement is much harder than dirt and they are usually traveling at much higher speeds. 'Keeping the rubber-side down' on pavement is very important. Dualsporters, on-off roaders, and adventure riders like myself get into a tad of everything, but again, as in all of these categories, one wants to avoid a drop. I came very close to dropping my bike and eating shit in the Baja and I was thankfully spared. I was almost smoked by a bus and a flying surfboard in mainland Mexico, but again, I managed to 'keep the rubber-side down'. Guatemala – all good... aside from once being cut-off by a large semi and tuk-tuks in small pueblos, but these experiences are deemed the norm while on roads in Latin America, no-big-deal scenarios.

El Salvador. El Salvador was the country to bite Rojo and I. I had checked out of Guatemala without too much drama and into El Salvador with relative ease. It all happened so fast, kind of a blur to be honest. It was at the El Salvador Aduana (Customs) and I'm not too proud to say, but I am really GLAD to say, I wasn't even ON my bike. I was standing beside it. Rojo was on the side stand, I was getting prepped to leave the border, and head south into El Salvador and the bike decided to tip over, like a slowly falling cedar tree in the forests of BC. And the bike dropped... on the surfboard side. Now, this wasn't my greatest fear of this adventure, but it was up there on my list of items to avoid. I figured, if the bike ever dropped on the surfboard-side... I'd have a big piece of floppy fiberglass to sort out, no more board and no more surf.

Once Rojo hit the pavement, it took x3 of us to lift it back up and prop it back on the side stand. I had a quick tap of the board and it seemed ok through the bag. The rack was bent, but I didn't want to deal with it at the border. I noticed the rack was now pushing against my aluminum pannier so I shoved a pop bottle between the two as a buffer and then put my helmet on, fired the bike up and started south. I rode south to El Tunco, a must stop for surf in El Salvador. Once checking into La Guitarra (a really nice hotel with bungalows and a bar), I then unloaded my bike and pulled my surf board out of the bag with my eyes closed. I couldn't believe it, the board was perfectly fine. I bent the rack back into place, tapped Rojo like a good horsey and went surfing at El Sunzal, a really fun and consistent right-hander.

Thankfully the only thing that was bruised on the first bike-drop of the trip was my ego... nothing a little surf couldn't fix right up.

My bungalow at La Guitarra, El Tunco, El Salvador

Cafe del Che, La Guitarra, El Salvador

Ernesto Che Guevara - I'm presently working on my Che-beard while working on my own Motorcycle Diaries
Streets of El Tunco, El Salvador

Main Street - El Tunco, El Salvador

El Tunco, El Salvador

Main Street, El Tunco

Rio de El Tunco

Fishing the El Tunco

La Guitarra had a few extra guitarras

Surf at El Tunco, El Salvador

Chicos watching local boys rip at El Tunco

Chilling with the local crowd at El Tunco

Good times in El Tunco

Packing up and leaving the Sunzal surf and La Guitarra, El Salvador

Dodging bullets, not balls

Las Flores was recommended to me by a fellow surfer I met in El Tunco. It is located in southeastern El Salvador and en 'my' route to the Honduras border. There are a number of surf resorts in and around Las Flores so I decided to treat myself and stay at one of them on my one night stopover before hitting the Honduras border early the next day. Once arriving via El Cuco I proceeded to knock on a couple of locked gates at 2 different resorts. I was turned away at both. One was an all inclusive and only booked online and the other didn't have any rooms available. As I drove up the road closer to the actual surf break I randomly headed up a stone drive through an open gate. I shut my bike off in an amazing open concept courtyard and was immediately approached by a beautiful young woman who showed me 2 different rooms. It was an easy decision to stay for the night, surf, and push through Honduras the following day.

As I headed back to my bike to unload, I was met by a guy who had just come up the drive. He looked at my bike and noticed the flags and license plate and asked if I was Canadian. Once agreeing he then said he studied English in Toronto and we started BS'ing in English. I was talking with Ernesto (Vladimir) Flores, owner of the Atlakamani Resort where I managed to land. I guess he passed my loaded moto down the road while I was checking out one of the other resorts and he hoped I'd eventually arrive at his place as he loves motorcycles. Truly crazy how these things tend to pan out. He showed me his KTM 250 EXC dirt machine, asked what I was quoted on my room and immediately lowered my price into a bro-deal. It was an easy decision to change my plans and stay x2 nights and I would have stayed for weeks if Panama wasn't in my future.

Vladimir (nicknamed by friends) was an amazing host at his uber-chilled surf resort. I was introduced to his family, his black lab, the staff and his pet parrot who arrived out of the blue and didn't want to leave. After an evening surf at Las Flores break (1min walk from the resort), Vladimir and I got to discussing life in El Salvador and his life there as a kid. He then showed me bullet holes in his shoulders and my jaw almost hit the deck. When I was a kid, I was trying desperately to stay on my skateboard and playing dodgeball,... not dodging bullets. I can't even imagine. I grabbed Vladimir's hand, looked him in the eyes and told him how happy I was to meet him. What a pleasure to land at his place. I know I'll be back.

Check it out: Atlakamani Resort

Open areas and my room to the left at the Atlakamani Resort, southern El Salvador

TV/Movie zone at Atlakamani Resort

Atlakamani Resort, El Salvador

Rock-star parking at Vladimir's Atlakamani Surf Resort

Vladimir's black lab and parrot

The parrot that wouldn't leave, and is now safe and sound at home

Vladimir's sweet KTM 250

Atlakamani Surf Resort

Sunday night soccer match at Las Flores beach, El Salvador

Playa Las Flores, El Salvador

Team Brazil - these two guys were at the Atlakamani Resort and were ripping surfers and keen on motos!

A money-making bribe

Honduras. My goal was to blaze through Honduras in one day. 2 borders, 3 countries, paperwork, stamps, fees, little slips of paper and copies of copies... including rig-a-morol... in one day. A bold move? Absolutely. I figure it is good to set goals and challenges even on a daily basis. So, I went for it.

Making trails from Vladimir's Atlakamani Resort to the El Salvador/Honduras border took me 1.5hrs. For the first time in the trip I decided to pay a coyote (helper) to get me through the border process. I've avoided the services of these young border helpers trying to make a buck until Honduras. I wanted to get into and through Honduras as quickly as possible even with the added expense. I sat drinking soda on a bench for a better part of the process and 2.5hrs later, I was in. I am certain I was gringo'ed for the services rendered, but I didn't care hoping that the payment did in fact shave off travel time to achieve my goal in a day. Did it? One will never know.

Bribes. Corruption. Automatic weapons. Policia. Roadblocks. Checkpoints. Time and hassles. This is what I had read about police and federal stops in the Baja, Mexico and Central America, with Honduras being particularly bad. All through the Baja, Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the countless road checks and stops went surprisingly fine. I was now faced with my first Honduran police check and I was honestly more intimidated. I tried hard to play it cool, the policia asked questions, looked at my paperwork, fake license (I made 4 before leaving Canada as I heard they sometimes like to keep them) and then he did a few laps around my bike. It was like I snapped my fingers when my paperwork and license arrived back in my hand and I was on my way down the highway. Snap. I was back to making time, back on my goal for the day,... until 50 km further down the road.

I arrived at yet another police check. I'm waved to stop and words are spoken. At all stops, as respectfully as possible, I play as though I don't know a word of Spanish. This normally helps expedite the process as the majority of policia don't enjoy speaking english. Not this time. In English, the Honduran officer asks me where I was from and upon hearing Canada he then waves another officer over. All I remember hearing next was something in Spanish about money. The second officer then waves me to drive my bike off the highway and over to the side of the road while the first officer stops traffic to allow me to do so. Immediately, my mind races to, “Uh-oh... here we go,... bribe-time numero uno in Central America.”

I drive my moto to the side of the road and proceed to shut it down. Officer number 2 approaches me and speaking Spanish continues to talk money and he then says 'cambiar' – to change. I start to smile, I start smiling a huge one behind my helmet. Turns out that this officer has a Canadian $20 bill (Hmmm, wonder where he got that!?) and he wants me to exchange it for him! I then tell him that a Canadian $20 is the same as a US $20 and he agrees on that exchange. I then tell him in Spanish that in order for this deal to happen that I get a photo of him and the money exchange for my friends back home. He agrees.

After a quick couple of photos, I hand him the US $20, shake his hand and I take off, laughing all the way to Nicaragua.

As the Canadian dollar has been bouncing above the US $, I'm certain I made at least a few cents through that exchange.

I was still shaking my head at that one when pulling into Leon, Nicaragua that afternoon, achieving the goal for the day... and in style.

A Canadian $20 for a US $20 - and a photo included in the deal

Note where the right hand of the Honduran Officer is... glad I got out of there fast!

Leon, Nicaragua

Rolling into the evening - Leon, Nicaragua

Road-side stop.  I got the mechanic to throw some oil on my chain...

These boys knew how to relax

The Black Cat and the Black Bear

Gato Negro y Oso Negro.

Two of my favourite coffee houses in the world. I frequent a coffee house at home in Nelson, BC called Oso Negro. A good friend once stated that if you are in Nelson, it is social suicide if you don't go to Oso. They also have fantastic coffee. My creature comfort: an Oso double americano with steamed cream, piping hot and strong, nothing better.

This was until 3 years ago when I landed in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I walked up the steps of El Gato Negro – bookstore cafe and right to the back where I met the owner, Rob Thomas working his in-shop roaster like a madman. We got to chatting all about the beans he roasts, where he gets them from and I'm certain the conversation then began trending to mountain biking, something Rob enjoys and a typical path a coffee conversation trends in Nelson. I had a double pulled and it was truly memorable.

It would be a lie to say I haven't been thinking of Gato Negro over the past couple of weeks, anticipating my arrival here. I had a fantastic visit with Rob and his wife Kelly today at Gato Negro in San Juan del Sur. We laughed about how many folks roll into their shop from Nelson, BC then comparing the two shops each with their tasty java and great vibes.

El Gato Negro
El Gato Negro, Bookstore-cafe, San Juan del Sur, southern Nicaragua

El Gato Negro, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua... (owner Rob behind the bar)
El Gato Negro - Bookstore cafe

If you ever land in San Juan, head to El Gato Negro, get them to pull you a double, buy or exchange a book, sit and enjoy.  The following day, repeat.

Tomorrow = Costa Rica – Pura Vida


  1. (Dan A) DUDE...quite starting out your story like you bailed on your ride...damn you. If you weren't such a wordsmith I'd stop at the title and figure you were in the hospital but your great style leads me to read the whole story start to finish with Lola on my lap, also enjoying your photos. Keep up the great story dude, cant wait for the next installment already!


  2. (Scotty-B) He is a master of suspense alright! I too am definitely a loyal Alexander Project follower and avid recruiter (my parents are reading). Keep up the exciting tales B.....just make sure they aren't too exciting. Great photos too btw what kind of camera are you using?
    Keep the rubber on the road partner!

  3. (Jerry R) I second Dan's comment - I keep thinking you've bailed, then it turns out everything worked out just fine. I'm amazed at how you seem to meet just the right people at just the right time - you've clearly stocked up your Karma bank before going on this trip - Una buena acción es la mejor oración.

  4. Dude! Love the photos and updates. I'm already dreaming of a trip with little Chloe someday to surf the spots you have visited.

  5. Hey BA, great journey. Your buddy's parrot is a scarlet macaw. One of the most amazing birds. They live ~50 years. I 'pet-sat' one for a quite a while. He was smart, super communicative and, I believe, self aware. He (and me too ;) developed a crush; he bit people he thought got too close to me. The boyfriend got it in the lip and needed a tetanus! ha! That is not a beak you want locked on your lip. To this day I think it was one of my most remarkable wildlife encounters. I learned a lot about the emotions of birds. His name was Jerry. Bon journey mon ami :Deb